THE CONJURING Review

by     Posted 1 year, 157 days ago

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Director James Wan and I have a disagreement on the meaning of the word “malevolent.”  His new film, The Conjuring, features an opening crawl that says the events we’re about to see are based on the true story of the most malevolent case in the files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.  The case is so sinister that it’s been kept secret until now.  With this kind of billing, I expect something truly horrific and upsetting.  But for Wan, “malevolent” is the equivalent of demons pulling supernatural tricks on a helpless family.  The film features excellent performances and thoughtful cinematography that evokes the time period of the story, but Wan’s definition of horror continues to rely on stale spooky images.  His strongest asset is the Warrens, but the malevolence on display becomes redundant and annoying until the third act when Wan is finally able to tap in to true terror.

In 1971 in Harrisville, Rhode Island, the Perron Family began experiencing strange and unsettling phenomenon at a home they bought at auction.  Primarily, the women of the house, mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and daughters Cynthia (Mackenzie Foy), Christine (Joey King), Nancy (Haley McFarland), and Andrea (Shanley Caswell) begin noticing strange sounds, phantoms, banging doors, and a variety of other occurrences that seem like irritating pranks.  Eventually, the unexplained phenomenon becomes too much for the Perrons to bear, and Carolyn seeks out the help of Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson), a certified demonologist recognized by the Catholic Church, and his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), a clairvoyant.  The Warrens come to the home to find the source of the disturbance, and dispel the “inhuman spirit” before it claims the family.

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The Conjuring could almost play as a spin-off of Wan’s last film, Insidious.  A family, particularly the mother, is continually startled by ghostly imagery.  The family calls on the help of someone who can communicate with the other side, and that person comes with a team and equipment to monitor the paranormal activity (Conjuring has the nice touch of going lo-tech with old film cameras, big microphones, and flashbulb photography triggered by temperature drops or trip wires).  Also like Insidious, Wan isn’t content with just one ghoul, and goes with a more-is-better philosophy rather than trying to develop a single antagonist with a clear personality.  He also features old horror standbys like creepy dolls, a decomposing old woman/witch, birds flying at the windows, and plenty of jump scares.  Wan knows how to build tension and jolt his audience, but he can’t truly unsettle us because we’ve seen almost everything in his bag of tricks.  When birds started ramming into the house, my immediate response was, “Thank you, Mr. Wan.  I too have seen The Birds.”

By employing these old devices, the “malevolence” lacks power because Wan can never take us beyond the comfort of what we’ve already seen before, and a creepy doll doesn’t build stakes.  It’s a creepy doll.  The last thing horror movies should do is pacify the audience.  We fear what we don’t understand, but we’ve seen other horror movies, and so we almost always know what Wan is ready to throw at us.  Although The Conjuring is terrific at evoking the 1970s and the horror movies of the time period, the scares don’t feel classic, but tired.  It doesn’t matter that this is based on “true events”.  As a horror story, we’ve seen this before, and we saw it from Wan only three years ago when Insidious came out.

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The only thing keeping The Conjuring from feeling completely stale are the Warrens.  They’re intriguing figures not only because of the great performances from Wilson and Farmiga, but because they’re willing to be skeptical.  If the problem is bad pipes and loose floorboards, they’ll say so.  They’re not scam artists or people who have bought into their own bullshit.  Wan clearly establishes them as the real deal, and they give the Perrons’ haunting some much-needed gravitas as the script gets painfully redundant with the inhuman spirit constantly annoying the family by closing doors, locking them in rooms, throwing pictures off the wall, and other mischievous activity that’s supposed to break down their mental barriers.  We can understand why the Perrons would be terrified, but we rarely share their terror because, again, we’ve already visited this haunted house.

If anyone comes out of The Conjuring showing they’re afraid, it’s Wan.  He’s a director who doesn’t push his audience into the unexpected.  His technical execution is solid, and he has a good sense of atmosphere, but the room is always filled with the same toys.  There are brief moments when The Conjuring breaks free of the familiar and Wan can terrify us with something we didn’t see coming (unfortunately, one of the trailers spoiled what could have been among the best scares in the movie).  But most of the time, we know what’s going to make us jump, but the director doesn’t know how to make us feel dread.  I hope one day Wan faces his fears, and abandons the exhausted imagery and clichés that permeate his horror films.

Rating: C-

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  • agus

    how could be possible that you put a c- to this film and in rotten tomatoes got a 83%? seriously goldberg get another job you are very bad in this

    • Jason Richards

      He’s the internet version of Armond White. He has contrarian views to run up the hits he gets on his reviews. Roger Ebert is rolling in his grave right now thinking how idiots like Goldberg can be real film reviewers. FUCK GOLDBERG.

      • IMPYEMU

        I’m more inclined to believe Ebert is rolling in his grave because people like you can get so butt-hurt about one online critic’s opinion of a movie.

        The score Matt gives to the movies isn’t even visible unless you click on the review. Nor is it posted to rotten tomatoes to be seen as fresh or negative. The only way to know what he thought of the movie is to click on the review. If the view count is high, its because people who enjoy his reviews come to read them, or

        butt-hurt people like you re-visit the page to spout hate to Goldberg any supporters he has.

  • Rastapopoulos

    Wan is very over-estimated. Good to see someone who doesn’t follow the sheeps, well done Mister Goldberg.

  • name

    Considering how many slashers, remakes and unoriginal horror movies get released each year, this one is about as fresh as it gets, yet its a C-?
    Are you expecting ocsar material here Goldberg?

  • Jason Richards

    COLLIDER YOU HAVE TO FIRE GOLDBERG. HE’S GETTING WAY OUT OF CONTROL. I’M TIRED OF SEEING HIM THROW HIS BIAS OUT THERE AND BASH GOOD MOVIES. THIS MAN IS NOT A REIVIEWER. GET FROSTY TO DO THE REVIEWS AND KICK THIS GUY OFF THE SITE. HE’S MORE SUITED FOR AINT IT COOL NEWS.

    • IMPYEMU

      Matt is the managing editor of Collider, he isn’t going to be fired for posting a review that contains an opinion that is not the same as yours, deal with it.

      Good is a subjective term in regards to movies, there are only opinions. The fact that you are saying that Matt is “out of control” makes you sound like an asshole who’s trying to bring down someones right to express their opinion.

      • Jason Richards

        DOUCHEBAG, THE MOVIE HAS A 83 PERCENT ON ROTTEN TOMATOES. THIS GUY IS SHITTING ON THE FILM AND GIVING LITTLE TO NO POSITIVES ABOUT THE FILM. HE DID THE SAME THING TO CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED MOVIES LIKE TDKR AND STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. BUT HE GIVES GOOD REVIEWS TO ABSOLUTE SHIT FILMS LIKE THE HEAT. HE’S TERRIBLE.

      • IMPYEMU

        Rottentomatoes is not law, just because it has a high score does not mean that it is exempt from criticism. This is movie discussion 101.

        He thought the performances were excellent and found the cinematography thoughtful. Those are two very positive things to say about a movie that he didn’t really like. You’re delusional and sad, especially if you’re complaining about his opinions on TDKR & STID, he wasn’t the only one that didn’t like those movies.

      • RiddleThemThis

        So it has 83% on RT, that means that 17% of critics don’t like this film. But Goldberg specifically is a shit person for not liking this movie, more-so than those other 17% of critics on RT.

      • Strong Enough

        what are you? James Wan butt intern?

      • Strong Enough

        what are you? James Wan butt intern?

      • bluerunner

        I have to agree with you Jason, anyone who thinks that a zombie love story is great (Warm Bodies,) and then shits all over Tokien’s name (The Hobbit, LOTR,) to me, would seem to like the abuse the fans throw at him. He is, in every sense of the word, a troll. Now there are a lot of good articles on this site, and I try to avoid Matt reviews for just this reason, but sometimes I can’t resist, and I am frequently disappointed. This, and all the new pop up ads, have sent me to other web sites recently.

    • Guest

      If you’re so opposed to his reviews why do you come view them?

  • Kayla

    Matt, I quite disagree.

    I’m not sure if you’re fishing for hits with this bad review, but I found it to be a very effective horror film. Wan more lulls us into a sense of security with this retro vibe, and then sets up scares that I personally did not see coming (I refused to watch the second trailer for the film since I heard it contained spoilers). Wan is extremely good at getting the audience to expect a scare… only to then deliver it from somewhere else (such as when the camera focused on door to the wardrobe, only to pan up to reveal the witch on top).

    Most effective for me was the scene where the one girl claims to see someone standing behind the door, even though we never actually see anything except darkness. This was a serious development in restraint for Wan, especially coming after the climax of his previous film, Insidious.

    It’s funny, I almost had the opposite reaction to you. I enjoyed the first two acts of the film more than the third. Even though the climax was a great exorcism scene… Insidious and also Drag Me to Hell featured fantastic exorcisms as well. I thought the subtle scares leading up to this climax were the strongest point of the film.

    Some of your complaints also come across as unfair considering the “true story” aspect of this film. I understand you might want to see more “tricks” from Wan, but this is very disrespectful of the real life Perron’s experience. This is allegedly a true story inspired by actual occurrences, and referring to these harrowing events that plagued a struggling family as cheap tricks from Wan is a staggering disservice to the Warrens, the Perrons, and Wan’s attempt at paying tribute to their tribulations.

    This was a poor review and it showcased a very juvenile sense of respect from you, Matt. I’m very disappointed.

  • Serpico Jones

    It just seems like Matt Goldberg doesn’t like anything.

    • IMPYEMU

      Read his Pacific Rim review? He gave it a B, but I guess since that isn’t 100% praise it counts as “not liking it”.

  • Unique Jenique

    Matt needs to stop reviewing movies. A lot of his ratings are questionable.

  • scheebles

    I completely disagree. I wouldn’t say it was great (I’d give it a B) but the first two acts were heads and tails above the third act. In fact, you go out of your way to say how unimpressed you are with the bird attack scene (your response came across as childish, by the way), and yet that scene was one of the big “scares” in the third act. Also, your fixation on the definition of “malevolent” seems flawed at best, and lacking in understanding of the rules of the film and the Warrens themselves. Cases had a three-step process (as detailed in the film). Infestation, Oppression, Possession. So the “non-malevolent” tricks that you despise have a clearly established role in the mythology laid out before the audience. They start off as tricks and grow into something truly malevolent as the family becomes more frightened. Honestly, you can’t ridicule the actions of the ghost as being not aggressive enough when the film has clearly gone out of its way to show how the aggression will mount over a period of time.

  • Nazi Goldberg

    I’m going to side with the director’s definition of “malevolent”. Because, he’s a professional filmmaker, and Goldberg is just a bitter film blogger.(and a pretty awful one at that)

  • RiddleThemThis

    So Goldberg doesn’t like the movie and the movie got 83% on Rotten-tomatoes. I guess that means that goldberg is a horrible person, maybe you guys should start posting on RT and tell the other 17% of critics who disliked this movie that they are horrible at their job and should be fired.

  • Matt Goldberg

    ok ok I hear the hate but you don’t understand I love to watch movies with a giant stick in my A$$!!!!!!!!! How else can you hate everything???!!! clap-clap ; )

  • Zombie Rip Torn

    I disagree with this guy like 90% of the time, but yall need to take a chill pill. He didnt like the movie, oh well. Play nice kids

  • peds

    I call Bullshit once again on Goldberg. Dude every movie is not going for an Oscar. Was the story cool? Did it have some creepy scares? Are the characters fun or interesting? The answer is yes, just because you have seen something before doesn’t mean its bad. This whole review is complete trash just for the fact that your reasoning for the poor score is the scares weren’t unique. Which is untrue, a few are pretty damn cool

    • Strong Enough

      the man has a different opinion than you. get over it.

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